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Mediterranean becoming a 'vast cemetery': UN

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18:18 CEST+02:00
The Mediterranean is turning into a "vast cemetery" because of soaring migrant deaths, the UN human rights chief said in Geneva on Monday, as he strongly condemned "callous" EU migration policies.

With more than 700 people feared dead after a fishing boat crammed with migrants capsized off Libya on Sunday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "horrified but not surprised by this latest tragedy".
   
"Europe is turning its back on some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world, and risk turning the Mediterranean into a vast cemetery," Zeid said.
   
"These deaths, and the hundreds of others that preceded them in recent months were sadly predictable," he said, blaming "a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion."
   
Sunday's tragedy came after a week in which two other migrant shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead.
   
Zeid's comments came as ministers from the European Union held crisis talks in Luxembourg, announcing a ten-point action plan to try to step up both control and rescue operations.
   
Zeid said EU governments must take a "more sophisticated, more courageous and less callous approach" and urged them to stop "pandering to xenophobic populist movements that have poisoned public opinion on this issue."
   
He lamented the demise of Italy's Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation, which rescued some 170,000 people last year but was discontinued over funding constraints and claims it was encouraging migrants to head to Europe.
   
Mare Nostrum was replaced with a smaller EU-led mission known as Triton, which Zeid said is "simply not fit for purpose" and "more geared to border control and policing the seas than to saving lives".
   
"Stopping the rescue of migrants in distress has not led to less migration, nor indeed to less smuggling, but merely to more deaths at sea," he said, demanding that Triton immediately be replaced "by a robust, European-wide, state-led and well-resourced search and rescue capability in the Mediterranean."
   
EU policies seem to ignore the desperation forcing so many people to risk their lives to try to reach Europe, Zeid added.
   
Elhadj As Sy, head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, used a similar term to describe the tragedies.
   
"Let's put a halt to the indifference that is turning the Mediterranean into a vast graveyard," he said.
   
"Every time a boat sinks a part of humanity drowns and we are haunted by the knowledge that it could have been prevented," said the IFRC chief, who is scheduled to head to Catania in Sicily on Tuesday to meet Red Cross volunteers working on the front lines of the crisis.

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